Spring training is starting, and it’s time for Robinson Cano, Shin-Soo Choo and a number of other big names to suit up for new teams. Free agent signings are the lifeblood of baseball’s offseason, helping fans stay engaged during the cold of winter.
With that in mind, The Associated Press presents this list of the most significant free agent acquisitions in the history of each major league franchise - one entry per team. The definition of “significant” is subjective, of course, but these free agents were all memorable for one reason or another. Some were bargains, others were busts. Some signed record-setting contracts, and a few weren’t highly pursued at all.
There were only a couple ground rules for this exercise:
1. Each free agent featured was an established pro. In other words, teenagers signed out of obscurity didn’t count.
2. Only free agents who switched teams were eligible. We were looking for moves from one club to another - not players who signed big deals to stay in one place.
The list is presented chronologically, and it spans free agency’s entire history - from the mid-1970s all the way though this offseason:
CLEVELAND INDIANS: WAYNE GARLAND (NOVEMBER 1976)
Garland was coming off a 20-win season in Baltimore when the Indians signed him to a 10-year, $2.3 million deal - a move that quickly became a cautionary tale on the risks of long-term contracts. Amid shoulder problems, Garland went 13-19 in his first season with Cleveland and never amounted to much with the Indians. He was released after the 1981 season, having won only 28 games in his entire tenure with Cleveland. Nowadays, the idea of a 10-year contract for any pitcher seems almost preposterous.
NEW YORK YANKEES: REGGIE JACKSON (NOVEMBER 1976)
The Yankees have certainly signed their share of big-name free agents, including Dave Winfield, CC Sabathia and Mike Mussina. But Jackson’s impact still resonates all these years later. After signing a $3 million, five-year contract, Mr. October led the Yankees to World Series titles in 1977 and 1978. Jackson’s three-homer game against the Los Angeles Dodgers capped a tumultuous 1977 season and remains part of World Series lore.
PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES: PETE ROSE (DECEMBER 1976)
After losing in the NL championship series three straight seasons, the Phillies lured Rose away from Cincinnati with a $3.2 million, four-year deal. He delivered, hitting .331 in 1979 and helping the Phillies beat Kansas City in 1980 for their first World Series title.
SAN DIEGO PADRES: STEVE GARVEY (DECEMBER 1982)
Garvey was 34 when he began playing for San Diego at the start of the 1983 season, but he still had a few hits left in his bat. In 1984, the Padres won the NL West, and Garvey’s homer off Lee Smith of the Chicago Cubs in the NLCS remains a signature moment in franchise history.
CINCINNATI REDS: DAVE PARKER (DECEMBER 1983)